Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Free e-book


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Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Free e-book

  1. 1. THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES BY SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE Brought To You By; Gloucester County, Virginia Links and News http: / / w w Free Copy CONTENTSI. A Scandal in BohemiaII. The Red-Headed LeagueIII. A Case of IdentityIV. The Boscombe Valley MysteryV. The Five Orange PipsVI. The Man with the Twisted LipVII. The Adventure of the Blue CarbuncleVIII. The Adventure of the Speckled BandIX. The Adventure of the Engineer’s ThumbX. The Adventure of the Noble BachelorXI. The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet XII. The Adventure of the Copper Beeches ADVENTURE I. A SCANDAL IN BOHEMIAI.To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her underany other name. In his eyes she eclipses andpredominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for IreneAdler. All emotions, and that one particularly, wereabhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the mostperfect reasoning and observing machine that the world hasseen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the
  2. 2. softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. Theywere admirable things for the observer—excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motivesand actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit suchintrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce adistracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mentalresults. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, wouldnot be more disturbing than a strong emotion in anature such as his. And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the lateIrene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.I had seen little of Holmes lately. My marriage had drifted us away from each other. My owncomplete happiness, and the home-centredinterests which rise up around the man who first finds himself master of his ownestablishment, were sufficient to absorb all my attention, whileHolmes, who loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian soul, remained in ourlodgings in Baker Street, buried among his old books,and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of thedrug, and the fierce energy of his own keen nature. Hewas still, as ever, deeply attracted by the study of crime, and occupied his immense facultiesand extraordinary powers of observation in followingout those clues, and clearing up those mysteries which had been abandoned as hopeless bythe official police. From time to time I heard somevague account of his doings: of his summons to Odessa in the case of the Trepoff murder, ofhis clearing up of the singular tragedy of the Atkinsonbrothers at Trincomalee, and finally of the mission which he had accomplished so delicatelyand successfully for the reigning family of Holland.Beyond these signs of his activity, however, which I merely shared with all the readers of thedaily press, I knew little of my former friend andcompanion.One night—it was on the twentieth of March, 1888—I was returning from a journey to apatient (for I had now returned to civil practice), when myway led me through Baker Street. As I passed the well-remembered door, which must alwaysbe associated in my mind with my wooing, and withthe dark incidents of the Study in Scarlet, I was seized with a keen desire to see Holmesagain, and to know how he was employing hisextraordinary powers. His rooms were brilliantly lit, and, even as I looked up, I saw his tall,spare figure pass twice in a dark silhouette against theblind. He was pacing the room swiftly, eagerly, with his head sunk upon his chest and hishands clasped behind him. To me, who knew his everymood and habit, his attitude and manner told their own story. He was at work again. He hadrisen out of his drug-created dreams and was hot uponthe scent of some new problem. I rang the bell and was shown up to the chamber which hadformerly been in part my own.His manner was not effusive. It seldom was; but he was glad, I think, to see me. With hardlya word spoken, but with a kindly eye, he waved meto an armchair, threw across his case of cigars, and indicated a spirit case and a gasogene inthe corner. Then he stood before the fire and lookedme over in his singular introspective fashion.“Wedlock suits you,” he remarked. “I think, Watson, that you have put on seven and a halfpounds since I saw you.”“Seven!” I answered.“Indeed, I should have thought a little more. Just a trifle more, I fancy, Watson. And inpractice again, I observe. You did not tell me that you
  3. 3. intended to go into harness.”“Then, how do you know?”“I see it, I deduce it. How do I know that you have been getting yourself very wet lately, andthat you have a most clumsy and careless servantgirl?”“My dear Holmes,” said I, “this is too much. You would certainly have been burned, had youlived a few centuries ago. It is true that I had acountry walk on Thursday and came home in a dreadful mess, but as I have changed myclothes I can’t imagine how you deduce it. As to MaryJane, she is incorrigible, and my wife has given her notice, but there, again, I fail to see howyou work it out.”He chuckled to himself and rubbed his long, nervous hands together.“It is simplicity itself,” said he; “my eyes tell me that on the inside of your left shoe, justwhere the firelight strikes it, the leather is scored by sixalmost parallel cuts. Obviously they have been caused by someone who has very carelesslyscraped round the edges of the sole in order to removecrusted mud from it. Hence, you see, my double deduction that you had been out in vileweather, and that you had a particularly malignant bootslittingspecimen of the London slavey. As to your practice, if a gentleman walks into my roomssmelling of iodoform, with a black mark of nitrate ofsilver upon his right forefinger, and a bulge on the right side of his top-hat to show where hehas secreted his stethoscope, I must be dull, indeed, if Ido not pronounce him to be an active member of the medical profession.”I could not help laughing at the ease with which he explained his process of deduction.“When I hear you give your reasons,” I remarked, “thething always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself,though at each successive instance of your reasoning I ambaffled until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.”“Quite so,” he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an armchair.“You see, but you do not observe. The distinction isclear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to thisroom.”“Frequently.”“How often?”“Well, some hundreds of times.”“Then how many are there?”“How many? I don’t know.”“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I knowthat there are seventeen steps, because I haveboth seen and observed. By the way, since you are interested in these little problems, andsince you are good enough to chronicle one or two of mytrifling experiences, you may be interested in this.” He threw over a sheet of thick, pink-tinted notepaper which had been lying open upon the table.“It came by the last post,” said he. “Read it aloud.”The note was undated, and without either signature or address.“There will call upon you to-night, at a quarter to eight o’clock,” it said, “a gentleman whodesires to consult you upon a matter of the verydeepest moment. Your recent services to one of the royal houses of Europe have shown thatyou are one who may safely be trusted with matterswhich are of an importance which can hardly be exaggerated. This account of you we havefrom all quarters received. Be in your chamber then atthat hour, and do not take it amiss if your visitor wear a mask.”
  4. 4. “This is indeed a mystery,” I remarked. “What do you imagine that it means?”“I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly onebegins to twist facts to suit theories, instead oftheories to suit facts. But the note itself. What do you deduce from it?”I carefully examined the writing, and the paper upon which it was written.“The man who wrote it was presumably well to do,” I remarked, endeavouring to imitate mycompanion’s processes. “Such paper could not bebought under half a crown a packet. It is peculiarly strong and stiff.”“Peculiar—that is the very word,” said Holmes. “It is not an English paper at all. Hold it up tothe light.”I did so, and saw a large “E” with a small “g,” a “P,” and a large “G” with a small “t” woven intothe texture of the paper.“What do you make of that?” asked Holmes.“The name of the maker, no doubt; or his monogram, rather.”“Not at all. The ‘G’ with the small ‘t’ stands for ‘Gesellschaft,’ which is the German for‘Company.’ It is a customary contraction like our ‘Co.’ ‘P,’of course, stands for ‘Papier.’ Now for the ‘Eg.’ Let us glance at our Continental Gazetteer.”He took down a heavy brown volume from his shelves.“Eglow, Eglonitz—here we are, Egria. It is in a German-speaking country—in Bohemia, not farfrom Carlsbad. ‘Remarkable as being the scene ofthe death of Wallenstein, and for its numerous glass-factories and paper-mills.’ Ha, ha, myboy, what do you make of that?” His eyes sparkled, andhe sent up a great blue triumphant cloud from his cigarette.“The paper was made in Bohemia,” I said.“Precisely. And the man who wrote the note is a German. Do you note the peculiarconstruction of the sentence—‘This account of you we havefrom all quarters received.’ A Frenchman or Russian could not have written that. It is theGerman who is so uncourteous to his verbs. It only remains,therefore, to discover what is wanted by this German who writes upon Bohemian paper andprefers wearing a mask to showing his face. And herehe comes, if I am not mistaken, to resolve all our doubts.”As he spoke there was the sharp sound of horses’ hoofs and grating wheels against thecurb, followed by a sharp pull at the bell. Holmeswhistled.“A pair, by the sound,” said he. “Yes,” he continued, glancing out of the window. “A nice littlebrougham and a pair of beauties. A hundred andfifty guineas apiece. There’s money in this case, Watson, if there is nothing else.”“I think that I had better go, Holmes.”“Not a bit, Doctor. Stay where you are. I am lost without my Boswell. And this promises to beinteresting. It would be a pity to miss it.”“But your client—”“Never mind him. I may want your help, and so may he. Here he comes. Sit down in thatarmchair, Doctor, and give us your best attention.”A slow and heavy step, which had been heard upon the stairs and in the passage, pausedimmediately outside the door. Then there was aloud and authoritative tap.“Come in!” said Holmes.A man entered who could hardly have been less than six feet six inches in height, with thechest and limbs of a Hercules. His dress was richwith a richness which would, in England, be looked upon as akin to bad taste. Heavy bandsof astrakhan were slashed across the sleeves andfronts of his double-breasted coat, while the deep blue cloak which was thrown over his
  5. 5. shoulders was lined with flame-coloured silk and secured atthe neck with a brooch which consisted of a single flaming beryl. Boots which extendedhalfway up his calves, and which were trimmed at the topswith rich brown fur, completed the impression of barbaric opulence which was suggested byhis whole appearance. He carried a broad-brimmedhat in his hand, while he wore across the upper part of his face, extending down past thecheekbones, a black vizard mask, which he hadapparently adjusted that very moment, for his hand was still raised to it as he entered. Fromthe lower part of the face he appeared to be a man ofstrong character, with a thick, hanging lip, and a long, straight chin suggestive of resolutionpushed to the length of obstinacy.“You had my note?” he asked with a deep harsh voice and a strongly marked German accent.“I told you that I would call.” He looked from oneto the other of us, as if uncertain which to address.“Pray take a seat,” said Holmes. “This is my friend and colleague, Dr. Watson, who isoccasionally good enough to help me in my cases.Whom have I the honour to address?”“You may address me as the Count Von Kramm, a Bohemian nobleman. I understand thatthis gentleman, your friend, is a man of honour anddiscretion, whom I may trust with a matter of the most extreme importance. If not, I shouldmuch prefer to communicate with you alone.”I rose to go, but Holmes caught me by the wrist and pushed me back into my chair. “It isboth, or none,” said he. “You may say before thisgentleman anything which you may say to me.”The Count shrugged his broad shoulders. “Then I must begin,” said he, “by binding you bothto absolute secrecy for two years; at the end of thattime the matter will be of no importance. At present it is not too much to say that it is ofsuch weight it may have an influence upon Europeanhistory.”“I promise,” said Holmes.“And I.”“You will excuse this mask,” continued our strange visitor. “The august person who employsme wishes his agent to be unknown to you, and Imay confess at once that the title by which I have just called myself is not exactly my own.”“I was aware of it,” said Holmes dryly.“The circumstances are of great delicacy, and every precaution has to be taken to quenchwhat might grow to be an immense scandal andseriously compromise one of the reigning families of Europe. To speak plainly, the matterimplicates the great House of Ormstein, hereditary kingsof Bohemia.”“I was also aware of that,” murmured Holmes, settling himself down in his armchair andclosing his eyes.Our visitor glanced with some apparent surprise at the languid, lounging figure of the manwho had been no doubt depicted to him as the mostincisive reasoner and most energetic agent in Europe. Holmes slowly reopened his eyes andlooked impatiently at his gigantic client.“If your Majesty would condescend to state your case,” he remarked, “I should be better ableto advise you.”The man sprang from his chair and paced up and down the room in uncontrollable agitation.Then, with a gesture of desperation, he tore themask from his face and hurled it upon the ground. “You are right,” he cried; “I am the King.Why should I attempt to conceal it?”
  6. 6. “Why, indeed?” murmured Holmes. “Your Majesty had not spoken before I was aware that Iwas addressing Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond vonOrmstein, Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein, and hereditary King of Bohemia.”“But you can understand,” said our strange visitor, sitting down once more and passing hishand over his high white forehead, “you canunderstand that I am not accustomed to doing such business in my own person. Yet thematter was so delicate that I could not confide it to an agentwithout putting myself in his power. I have come incognito from Prague for the purpose ofconsulting you.”“Then, pray consult,” said Holmes, shutting his eyes once more.“The facts are briefly these: Some five years ago, during a lengthy visit to Warsaw, I made theacquaintance of the well-known adventuress,Irene Adler. The name is no doubt familiar to you.”“Kindly look her up in my index, Doctor,” murmured Holmes without opening his eyes. Formany years he had adopted a system of docketingall paragraphs concerning men and things, so that it was difficult to name a subject or aperson on which he could not at once furnish information. Inthis case I found her biography sandwiched in between that of a Hebrew rabbi and that of astaff-commander who had written a monograph uponthe deep-sea fishes.“Let me see!” said Holmes. “Hum! Born in New Jersey in the year 1858. Contralto—hum! LaScala, hum! Prima donna Imperial Opera ofWarsaw—yes! Retired from operatic stage—ha! Living in London—quite so! Your Majesty, as Iunderstand, became entangled with this youngperson, wrote her some compromising letters, and is now desirous of getting those lettersback.”“Precisely so. But how—”“Was there a secret marriage?”“None.”“No legal papers or certificates?”“None.”“Then I fail to follow your Majesty. If this young person should produce her letters forblackmailing or other purposes, how is she to prove theirauthenticity?”“There is the writing.”“Pooh, pooh! Forgery.”“My private note-paper.”“Stolen.”“My own seal.”“Imitated.”“My photograph.”“Bought.”“We were both in the photograph.”“Oh, dear! That is very bad! Your Majesty has indeed committed an indiscretion.”“I was mad—insane.”“You have compromised yourself seriously.”“I was only Crown Prince then. I was young. I am but thirty now.”“It must be recovered.”“We have tried and failed.”“Your Majesty must pay. It must be bought.”“She will not sell.”“Stolen, then.”
  7. 7. “Five attempts have been made. Twice burglars in my pay ransacked her house. Once wediverted her luggage when she travelled. Twice shehas been waylaid. There has been no result.”“No sign of it?”“Absolutely none.”Holmes laughed. “It is quite a pretty little problem,” said he.“But a very serious one to me,” returned the King reproachfully.“Very, indeed. And what does she propose to do with the photograph?”“To ruin me.”“But how?”“I am about to be married.”“So I have heard.”“To Clotilde Lothman von Saxe-Meningen, second daughter of the King of Scandinavia. Youmay know the strict principles of her family. She isherself the very soul of delicacy. A shadow of a doubt as to my conduct would bring thematter to an end.”“And Irene Adler?”“Threatens to send them the photograph. And she will do it. I know that she will do it. Youdo not know her, but she has a soul of steel. She hasthe face of the most beautiful of women, and the mind of the most resolute of men. Ratherthan I should marry another woman, there are no lengthsto which she would not go—none.”“You are sure that she has not sent it yet?”“I am sure.”“And why?”“Because she has said that she would send it on the day when the betrothal was publiclyproclaimed. That will be next Monday.”“Oh, then we have three days yet,” said Holmes with a yawn. “That is very fortunate, as I haveone or two matters of importance to look into justat present. Your Majesty will, of course, stay in London for the present?”“Certainly. You will find me at the Langham under the name of the Count Von Kramm.”“Then I shall drop you a line to let you know how we progress.”“Pray do so. I shall be all anxiety.”“Then, as to money?”“You have car te blanche .”“Absolutely?”“I tell you that I would give one of the provinces of my kingdom to have that photograph.”“And for present expenses?”The King took a heavy chamois leather bag from under his cloak and laid it on the table.“There are three hundred pounds in gold and seven hundred in notes,” he said.Holmes scribbled a receipt upon a sheet of his note-book and handed it to him.“And Mademoiselle’s address?” he asked.“Is Briony Lodge, Serpentine Avenue, St. John’s Wood.”Holmes took a note of it. “One other question,” said he. “Was the photograph a cabinet?”“It was.”“Then, good-night, your Majesty, and I trust that we shall soon have some good news foryou. And good-night, Watson,” he added, as thewheels of the royal brougham rolled down the street. “If you will be good enough to call to-morrow afternoon at three o’clock I should like to chat thislittle matter over with you.”II.At three o’clock precisely I was at Baker Street, but Holmes had not yet returned. The
  8. 8. landlady informed me that he had left the house shortly aftereight o’clock in the morning. I sat down beside the fire, however, with the intention ofawaiting him, however long he might be. I was already deeplyinterested in his inquiry, for, though it was surrounded by none of the grim and strangefeatures which were associated with the two crimes which Ihave already recorded, still, the nature of the case and the exalted station of his client gaveit a character of its own. Indeed, apart from the nature ofthe investigation which my friend had on hand, there was something in his masterly grasp ofa situation, and his keen, incisive reasoning, whichmade it a pleasure to me to study his system of work, and to follow the quick, subtlemethods by which he disentangled the most inextricablemysteries. So accustomed was I to his invariable success that the very possibility of hisfailing had ceased to enter into my head.It was close upon four before the door opened, and a drunken-looking groom, ill-kempt andside-whiskered, with an inflamed face anddisreputable clothes, walked into the room. Accustomed as I was to my friend’s amazingpowers in the use of disguises, I had to look three timesbefore I was certain that it was indeed he. With a nod he vanished into the bedroom, whencehe emerged in five minutes tweed-suited andrespectable, as of old. Putting his hands into his pockets, he stretched out his legs in frontof the fire and laughed heartily for some minutes.“Well, really!” he cried, and then he choked and laughed again until he was obliged to lieback, limp and helpless, in the chair.“What is it?”“It’s quite too funny. I am sure you could never guess how I employed my morning, or what Iended by doing.”“I can’t imagine. I suppose that you have been watching the habits, and perhaps the house,of Miss Irene Adler.”“Quite so; but the sequel was rather unusual. I will tell you, however. I left the house a littleafter eight o’clock this morning in the character of agroom out of work. There is a wonderful sympathy and freemasonry among horsey men. Beone of them, and you will know all that there is to know. Isoon found Briony Lodge. It is a bijou villa, with a garden at the back, but built out in frontright up to the road, two stories. Chubb lock to the door.Large sitting-room on the right side, well furnished, with long windows almost to the floor,and those preposterous English window fasteners which achild could open. Behind there was nothing remarkable, save that the passage window couldbe reached from the top of the coach-house. I walkedround it and examined it closely from every point of view, but without noting anything elseof interest.“I then lounged down the street and found, as I expected, that there was a mews in a lanewhich runs down by one wall of the garden. I lent theostlers a hand in rubbing down their horses, and received in exchange twopence, a glass ofhalf-and-half, two fills of shag tobacco, and as muchinformation as I could desire about Miss Adler, to say nothing of half a dozen other peoplein the neighbourhood in whom I was not in the leastinterested, but whose biographies I was compelled to listen to.”“And what of Irene Adler?” I asked.“Oh, she has turned all the men’s heads down in that part. She is the daintiest thing under abonnet on this planet. So say the Serpentinemews,to a man. She lives quietly, sings at concerts, drives out at five every day, and returns atseven sharp for dinner. Seldom goes out at other
  9. 9. times, except when she sings. Has only one male visitor, but a good deal of him. He is dark,handsome, and dashing, never calls less than once aday, and often twice. He is a Mr. Godfrey Norton, of the Inner Temple. See the advantages ofa cabman as a confidant. They had driven him home adozen times from Serpentine-mews, and knew all about him. When I had listened to all theyhad to tell, I began to walk up and down near BrionyLodge once more, and to think over my plan of campaign.“This Godfrey Norton was evidently an important factor in the matter. He was a lawyer. Thatsounded ominous. What was the relation betweenthem, and what the object of his repeated visits? Was she his client, his friend, or hismistress? If the former, she had probably transferred thephotograph to his keeping. If the latter, it was less likely. On the issue of this questiondepended whether I should continue my work at Briony Lodge,or turn my attention to the gentleman’s chambers in the Temple. It was a delicate point, andit widened the field of my inquiry. I fear that I bore youwith these details, but I have to let you see my little difficulties, if you are to understand thesituation.”“I am following you closely,” I answered.“I was still balancing the matter in my mind when a hansom cab drove up to Briony Lodge,and a gentleman sprang out. He was a remarkablyhandsome man, dark, aquiline, and moustached—evidently the man of whom I had heard.He appeared to be in a great hurry, shouted to thecabman to wait, and brushed past the maid who opened the door with the air of a man whowas thoroughly at home.“He was in the house about half an hour, and I could catch glimpses of him in the windowsof the sitting-room, pacing up and down, talkingexcitedly, and waving his arms. Of her I could see nothing. Presently he emerged, lookingeven more flurried than before. As he stepped up to thecab, he pulled a gold watch from his pocket and looked at it earnestly, ‘Drive like the devil,’he shouted, ‘first to Gross & Hankey’s in Regent Street,and then to the Church of St. Monica in the Edgeware Road. Half a guinea if you do it intwenty minutes!’“Away they went, and I was just wondering whether I should not do well to follow them whenup the lane came a neat little landau, the coachmanwith his coat only half-buttoned, and his tie under his ear, while all the tags of his harnesswere sticking out of the buckles. It hadn’t pulled up beforeshe shot out of the hall door and into it. I only caught a glimpse of her at the moment, butshe was a lovely woman, with a face that a man might diefor.“ ‘The Church of St. Monica, John,’ she cried, ‘and half a sovereign if you reach it in twentyminutes.’“This was quite too good to lose, Watson. I was just balancing whether I should run for it, orwhether I should perch behind her landau when acab came through the street. The driver looked twice at such a shabby fare, but I jumped inbefore he could object. ‘The Church of St. Monica,’ saidI, ‘and half a sovereign if you reach it in twenty minutes.’ It was twenty-five minutes totwelve, and of course it was clear enough what was in the wind.“My cabby drove fast. I don’t think I ever drove faster, but the others were there before us.The cab and the landau with their steaming horseswere in front of the door when I arrived. I paid the man and hurried into the church. Therewas not a soul there save the two whom I had followed anda surpliced clergyman, who seemed to be expostulating with them. They were all three
  10. 10. standing in a knot in front of the altar. I lounged up the sideaisle like any other idler who has dropped into a church. Suddenly, to my surprise, the threeat the altar faced round to me, and Godfrey Nortoncame running as hard as he could towards me.“ ‘Thank God,’ he cried. ‘You’ll do. Come! Come!’“ ‘What then?’ I asked.“ ‘Come, man, come, only three minutes, or it won’t be legal.’“I was half-dragged up to the altar, and before I knew where I was I found myself mumblingresponses which were whispered in my ear, andvouching for things of which I knew nothing, and generally assisting in the secure tying upof Irene Adler, spinster, to Godfrey Norton, bachelor. It wasall done in an instant, and there was the gentleman thanking me on the one side and thelady on the other, while the clergyman beamed on me infront. It was the most preposterous position in which I ever found myself in my life, and itwas the thought of it that started me laughing just now. Itseems that there had been some informality about their license, that the clergymanabsolutely refused to marry them without a witness of some sort,and that my lucky appearance saved the bridegroom from having to sally out into the streetsin search of a best man. The bride gave me asovereign, and I mean to wear it on my watch chain in memory of the occasion.”“This is a very unexpected turn of affairs,” said I; “and what then?”“Well, I found my plans very seriously menaced. It looked as if the pair might take animmediate departure, and so necessitate very prompt andenergetic measures on my part. At the church door, however, they separated, he drivingback to the Temple, and she to her own house. ‘I shall driveout in the park at five as usual,’ she said as she left him. I heard no more. They drove awayin different directions, and I went off to make my ownarrangements.”“Which are?”“Some cold beef and a glass of beer,” he answered, ringing the bell. “I have been too busy tothink of food, and I am likely to be busier still thisevening. By the way, Doctor, I shall want your co-operation.”“I shall be delighted.”“You don’t mind breaking the law?”“Not in the least.”“Nor running a chance of arrest?”“Not in a good cause.”“Oh, the cause is excellent!”“Then I am your man.”“I was sure that I might rely on you.”“But what is it you wish?”“When Mrs. Turner has brought in the tray I will make it clear to you. Now,” he said as heturned hungrily on the simple fare that our landlady hadprovided, “I must discuss it while I eat, for I have not much time. It is nearly five now. In twohours we must be on the scene of action. Miss Irene, orMadame, rather, returns from her drive at seven. We must be at Briony Lodge to meet her.”“And what then?”“You must leave that to me. I have already arranged what is to occur. There is only one pointon which I must insist. You must not interfere,come what may. You understand?”“I am to be neutral?”“To do nothing whatever. There will probably be some small unpleasantness. Do not join in
  11. 11. it. It will end in my being conveyed into the house.Four or five minutes afterwards the sitting-room window will open. You are to stationyourself close to that open window.”“Yes.”“You are to watch me, for I will be visible to you.”“Yes.”“And when I raise my hand—so—you will throw into the room what I give you to throw, andwill, at the same time, raise the cry of fire. You quitefollow me?”“Entirely.”“It is nothing very formidable,” he said, taking a long cigar-shaped roll from his pocket. “It isan ordinary plumber’s smoke-rocket, fitted with acap at either end to make it self-lighting. Your task is confined to that. When you raise yourcry of fire, it will be taken up by quite a number of people.You may then walk to the end of the street, and I will rejoin you in ten minutes. I hope that Ihave made myself clear?”“I am to remain neutral, to get near the window, to watch you, and at the signal to throw inthis object, then to raise the cry of fire, and to wait youat the corner of the street.”“Precisely.”“Then you may entirely rely on me.”“That is excellent. I think, perhaps, it is almost time that I prepare for the new role I have toplay.”He disappeared into his bedroom and returned in a few minutes in the character of anamiable and simple-minded Nonconformist clergyman.His broad black hat, his baggy trousers, his white tie, his sympathetic smile, and generallook of peering and benevolent curiosity were such as Mr.John Hare alone could have equalled. It was not merely that Holmes changed his costume.His expression, his manner, his very soul seemed tovary with every fresh part that he assumed. The stage lost a fine actor, even as science lostan acute reasoner, when he became a specialist incrime.It was a quarter past six when we left Baker Street, and it still wanted ten minutes to thehour when we found ourselves in Serpentine Avenue. Itwas already dusk, and the lamps were just being lighted as we paced up and down in frontof Briony Lodge, waiting for the coming of its occupant.The house was just such as I had pictured it from Sherlock Holmes’ succinct description, butthe locality appeared to be less private than Iexpected. On the contrary, for a small street in a quiet neighbourhood, it was remarkablyanimated. There was a group of shabbily dressed mensmoking and laughing in a corner, a scissors-grinder with his wheel, two guardsmen whowere flirting with a nurse-girl, and several well-dressedyoung men who were lounging up and down with cigars in their mouths.“You see,” remarked Holmes, as we paced to and fro in front of the house, “this marriagerather simplifies matters. The photograph becomes adouble-edged weapon now. The chances are that she would be as averse to its being seen byMr. Godfrey Norton, as our client is to its coming tothe eyes of his princess. Now the question is, Where are we to find the photograph?”“Where, indeed?”“It is most unlikely that she carries it about with her. It is cabinet size. Too large for easyconcealment about a woman’s dress. She knows thatthe King is capable of having her waylaid and searched. Two attempts of the sort have
  12. 12. already been made. We may take it, then, that she does notcarry it about with her.”“Where, then?”“Her banker or her lawyer. There is that double possibility. But I am inclined to think neither.Women are naturally secretive, and they like to dotheir own secreting. Why should she hand it over to anyone else? She could trust her ownguardianship, but she could not tell what indirect orpolitical influence might be brought to bear upon a business man. Besides, remember thatshe had resolved to use it within a few days. It must bewhere she can lay her hands upon it. It must be in her own house.”“But it has twice been burgled.”“Pshaw! They did not know how to look.”“But how will you look?”“I will not look.”“What then?”“I will get her to show me.”“But she will refuse.”“She will not be able to. But I hear the rumble of wheels. It is her carriage. Now carry out myorders to the letter.”As he spoke the gleam of the sidelights of a carriage came round the curve of the avenue. Itwas a smart little landau which rattled up to thedoor of Briony Lodge. As it pulled up, one of the loafing men at the corner dashed forwardto open the door in the hope of earning a copper, butwas elbowed away by another loafer, who had rushed up with the same intention. A fiercequarrel broke out, which was increased by the twoguardsmen, who took sides with one of the loungers, and by the scissors-grinder, who wasequally hot upon the other side. A blow was struck, andin an instant the lady, who had stepped from her carriage, was the centre of a little knot offlushed and struggling men, who struck savagely at eachother with their fists and sticks. Holmes dashed into the crowd to protect the lady; but, justas he reached her, he gave a cry and dropped to theground, with the blood running freely down his face. At his fall the guardsmen took to theirheels in one direction and the loungers in the other, whilea number of better dressed people, who had watched the scuffle without taking part in it,crowded in to help the lady and to attend to the injuredman. Irene Adler, as I will still call her, had hurried up the steps; but she stood at the topwith her superb figure outlined against the lights of the hall,looking back into the street.“Is the poor gentleman much hurt?” she asked.“He is dead,” cried several voices.“No, no, there’s life in him!” shouted another. “But he’ll be gone before you can get him tohospital.”“He’s a brave fellow,” said a woman. “They would have had the lady’s purse and watch if ithadn’t been for him. They were a gang, and a roughone, too. Ah, he’s breathing now.”“He can’t lie in the street. May we bring him in, marm?”“Surely. Bring him into the sitting-room. There is a comfortable sofa. This way, please!”Slowly and solemnly he was borne into Briony Lodge and laid out in the principal room, whileI still observed the proceedings from my post bythe window. The lamps had been lit, but the blinds had not been drawn, so that I could seeHolmes as he lay upon the couch. I do not know whetherhe was seized with compunction at that moment for the part he was playing, but I know that
  13. 13. I never felt more heartily ashamed of myself in my lifethan when I saw the beautiful creature against whom I was conspiring, or the grace andkindliness with which she waited upon the injured man. Andyet it would be the blackest treachery to Holmes to draw back now from the part which hehad intrusted to me. I hardened my heart, and took thesmoke-rocket from under my ulster. After all, I thought, we are not injuring her. We are butpreventing her from injuring another.Holmes had sat up upon the couch, and I saw him motion like a man who is in need of air. Amaid rushed across and threw open the window.At the same instant I saw him raise his hand and at the signal I tossed my rocket into theroom with a cry of “Fire!” The word was no sooner out ofmy mouth than the whole crowd of spectators, well dressed and ill—gentlemen, ostlers, andservant maids—joined in a general shriek of “Fire!”Thick clouds of smoke curled through the room and out at the open window. I caught aglimpse of rushing figures, and a moment later the voice ofHolmes from within assuring them that it was a false alarm. Slipping through the shoutingcrowd I made my way to the corner of the street, and in tenminutes was rejoiced to find my friend’s arm in mine, and to get away from the scene ofuproar. He walked swiftly and in silence for some fewminutes until we had turned down one of the quiet streets which lead towards the EdgewareRoad.“You did it very nicely, Doctor,” he remarked. “Nothing could have been better. It is all right.”“You have the photograph?”“I know where it is.”“And how did you find out?”“She showed me, as I told you she would.”“I am still in the dark.”“I do not wish to make a mystery,” said he, laughing. “The matter was perfectly simple. You,of course, saw that everyone in the street was anaccomplice. They were all engaged for the evening.”“I guessed as much.”“Then, when the row broke out, I had a little moist red paint in the palm of my hand. Irushed forward, fell down, clapped my hand to my face,and became a piteous spectacle. It is an old trick.”“That also I could fathom.”“Then they carried me in. She was bound to have me in. What else could she do? And intoher sitting-room, which was the very room which Isuspected. It lay between that and her bedroom, and I was determined to see which. Theylaid me on a couch, I motioned for air, they werecompelled to open the window, and you had your chance.”“How did that help you?”“It was all-important. When a woman thinks that her house is on fire, her instinct is at onceto rush to the thing which she values most. It is aperfectly overpowering impulse, and I have more than once taken advantage of it. In the caseof the Darlington Substitution Scandal it was of use tome, and also in the Arnsworth Castle business. A married woman grabs at her baby; anunmarried one reaches for her jewel-box. Now it was clearto me that our lady of to-day had nothing in the house more precious to her than what weare in quest of. She would rush to secure it. The alarm offire was admirably done. The smoke and shouting were enough to shake nerves of steel. Sheresponded beautifully. The photograph is in a recessbehind a sliding panel just above the right bell-pull. She was there in an instant, and I caught
  14. 14. a glimpse of it as she half drew it out. When I cried outthat it was a false alarm, she replaced it, glanced at the rocket, rushed from the room, and Ihave not seen her since. I rose, and, making myexcuses, escaped from the house. I hesitated whether to attempt to secure the photographat once; but the coachman had come in, and as he waswatching me narrowly, it seemed safer to wait. A little over-precipitance may ruin all.”“And now?” I asked.“Our quest is practically finished. I shall call with the King to-morrow, and with you, if youcare to come with us. We will be shown into the sittingroomto wait for the lady, but it is probable that when she comes she may find neither us nor thephotograph. It might be a satisfaction to his Majestyto regain it with his own hands.”“And when will you call?”“At eight in the morning. She will not be up, so that we shall have a clear field. Besides, wemust be prompt, for this marriage may mean acomplete change in her life and habits. I must wire to the King without delay.”We had reached Baker Street and had stopped at the door. He was searching his pockets forthe key when someone passing said:“Good-night, Mister Sherlock Holmes.”There were several people on the pavement at the time, but the greeting appeared to comefrom a slim youth in an ulster who had hurried by.“I’ve heard that voice before,” said Holmes, staring down the dimly lit street. “Now, I wonderwho the deuce that could have been.”III.I slept at Baker Street that night, and we were engaged upon our toast and coffee in themorning when the King of Bohemia rushed into the room.“You have really got it!” he cried, grasping Sherlock Holmes by either shoulder and lookingeagerly into his face.“Not yet.”“But you have hopes?”“I have hopes.”“Then, come. I am all impatience to be gone.”“We must have a cab.”“No, my brougham is waiting.”“Then that will simplify matters.” We descended and started off once more for Briony Lodge.“Irene Adler is married,” remarked Holmes.“Married! When?”“Yesterday.”“But to whom?”“To an English lawyer named Norton.”“But she could not love him.”“I am in hopes that she does.”“And why in hopes?”“Because it would spare your Majesty all fear of future annoyance. If the lady loves herhusband, she does not love your Majesty. If she does notlove your Majesty, there is no reason why she should interfere with your Majesty’s plan.”“It is true. And yet—! Well! I wish she had been of my own station! What a queen she wouldhave made!” He relapsed into a moody silence,which was not broken until we drew up in Serpentine Avenue.The door of Briony Lodge was open, and an elderly woman stood upon the steps. Shewatched us with a sardonic eye as we stepped from thebrougham.
  15. 15. “Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I believe?” said she.“I am Mr. Holmes,” answered my companion, looking at her with a questioning and ratherstartled gaze.“Indeed! My mistress told me that you were likely to call. She left this morning with herhusband by the 5:15 train from Charing Cross for theContinent.”“What!” Sherlock Holmes staggered back, white with chagrin and surprise. “Do you mean thatshe has left England?”“Never to return.”“And the papers?” asked the King hoarsely. “All is lost.”“We shall see.” He pushed past the servant and rushed into the drawing-room, followed bythe King and myself. The furniture was scatteredabout in every direction, with dismantled shelves and open drawers, as if the lady hadhurriedly ransacked them before her flight. Holmes rushed atthe bell-pull, tore back a small sliding shutter, and, plunging in his hand, pulled out aphotograph and a letter. The photograph was of Irene Adlerherself in evening dress, the letter was superscribed to “Sherlock Holmes, Esq. To be left tillcalled for.” My friend tore it open, and we all three readit together. It was dated at midnight of the preceding night and ran in this way:“MY DEAR MR. SHERLOCK HOLMES,—You really did it very well. You took me in completely.Until after the alarm of fire, I had not asuspicion. But then, when I found how I had betrayed myself, I began to think. I had beenwarned against you months ago. I had been told that, if theKing employed an agent, it would certainly be you. And your address had been given me.Yet, with all this, you made me reveal what you wanted toknow. Even after I became suspicious, I found it hard to think evil of such a dear, kind oldclergyman. But, you know, I have been trained as anactress myself. Male costume is nothing new to me. I often take advantage of the freedomwhich it gives. I sent John, the coachman, to watch you,ran upstairs, got into my walking clothes, as I call them, and came down just as youdeparted.“Well, I followed you to your door, and so made sure that I was really an object of interest tothe celebrated Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Then I, ratherimprudently, wished you good-night, and started for the Temple to see my husband.“We both thought the best resource was flight, when pursued by so formidable anantagonist; so you will find the nest empty when you call tomorrow.As to the photograph, your client may rest in peace. I love and am loved by a better manthan he. The King may do what he will withouthindrance from one whom he has cruelly wronged. I keep it only to safeguard myself, and topreserve a weapon which will always secure me fromany steps which he might take in the future. I leave a photograph which he might care topossess; and I remain, dear Mr. Sherlock Holmes,“Very truly yours,“IRENE NORTON, née ADLER.”“What a woman—oh, what a woman!” cried the King of Bohemia, when we had all three readthis epistle. “Did I not tell you how quick andresolute she was? Would she not have made an admirable queen? Is it not a pity that she wasnot on my level?”“From what I have seen of the lady, she seems, indeed, to be on a very different level to yourMajesty,” said Holmes coldly. “I am sorry that Ihave not been able to bring your Majesty’s business to a more successful conclusion.”“On the contrary, my dear sir,” cried the King; “nothing could be more successful. I know that
  16. 16. her word is inviolate. The photograph is now assafe as if it were in the fire.”“I am glad to hear your Majesty say so.”“I am immensely indebted to you. Pray tell me in what way I can reward you. This ring—” Heslipped an emerald snake ring from his finger andheld it out upon the palm of his hand.“Your Majesty has something which I should value even more highly,” said Holmes.“You have but to name it.”“This photograph!”The King stared at him in amazement.“Irene’s photograph!” he cried. “Certainly, if you wish it.”“I thank your Majesty. Then there is no more to be done in the matter. I have the honour towish you a very good morning.” He bowed, and,turning away without observing the hand which the King had stretched out to him, he set offin my company for his chambers.And that was how a great scandal threatened to affect the kingdom of Bohemia, and how thebest plans of Mr. Sherlock Holmes were beatenby a woman’s wit. He used to make merry over the cleverness of women, but I have notheard him do it of late. And when he speaks of Irene Adler,or when he refers to her photograph, it is always under the honourable title of the woman.I had called upon my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, one day in the autumn of last year andfound him in deep conversation with a very stout, floridfaced,elderly gentleman with fiery red hair. With an apology for my intrusion, I was about towithdraw when Holmes pulled me abruptly into the roomand closed the door behind me.“You could not possibly have come at a better time, my dear Watson,” he said cordially.“I was afraid that you were engaged.”“So I am. Very much so.”“Then I can wait in the next room.”“Not at all. This gentleman, Mr. Wilson, has been my partner and helper in many of my mostsuccessful cases, and I have no doubt that he willbe of the utmost use to me in yours also.”The stout gentleman half rose from his chair and gave a bob of greeting, with a quick littlequestioning glance from his small fat-encircled eyes.“Try the settee,” said Holmes, relapsing into his armchair and putting his fingertips together,as was his custom when in judicial moods. “I know,my dear Watson, that you share my love of all that is bizarre and outside the conventionsand humdrum routine of everyday life. You have shownyour relish for it by the enthusiasm which has prompted you to chronicle, and, if you willexcuse my saying so, somewhat to embellish so many of myown little adventures.”“Your cases have indeed been of the greatest interest to me,” I observed.“You will remember that I remarked the other day, just before we went into the very simpleproblem presented by Miss Mary Sutherland, that forstrange effects and extraordinary combinations we must go to life itself, which is always farmore daring than any effort of the imagination.”“A proposition which I took the liberty of doubting.”
  17. 17. “You did, Doctor, but none the less you must come round to my view, for otherwise I shallkeep on piling fact upon fact on you until your reasonbreaks down under them and acknowledges me to be right. Now, Mr. Jabez Wilson here hasbeen good enough to call upon me this morning, andto begin a narrative which promises to be one of the most singular which I have listened tofor some time. You have heard me remark that thestrangest and most unique things are very often connected not with the larger but with thesmaller crimes, and occasionally, indeed, where there isroom for doubt whether any positive crime has been committed. As far as I have heard, it isimpossible for me to say whether the present case isan instance of crime or not, but the course of events is certainly among the most singularthat I have ever listened to. Perhaps, Mr. Wilson, youwould have the great kindness to recommence your narrative. I ask you not merely becausemy friend Dr. Watson has not heard the opening partbut also because the peculiar nature of the story makes me anxious to have every possibledetail from your lips. As a rule, when I have heard someslight indication of the course of events, I am able to guide myself by the thousands of othersimilar cases which occur to my memory. In the presentinstance I am forced to admit that the facts are, to the best of my belief, unique.”The portly client puffed out his chest with an appearance of some little pride and pulled adirty and wrinkled newspaper from the inside pocketof his greatcoat. As he glanced down the advertisement column, with his head thrustforward and the paper flattened out upon his knee, I took agood look at the man and endeavoured, after the fashion of my companion, to read theindications which might be presented by his dress orappearance.I did not gain very much, however, by my inspection. Our visitor bore every mark of being anaverage commonplace British tradesman, obese,pompous, and slow. He wore rather baggy grey shepherd’s check trousers, a not over-cleanblack frock-coat, unbuttoned in the front, and a drabwaistcoat with a heavy brassy Albert chain, and a square pierced bit of metal dangling downas an ornament. A frayed top-hat and a faded brownovercoat with a wrinkled velvet collar lay upon a chair beside him. Altogether, look as Iwould, there was nothing remarkable about the man save hisblazing red head, and the expression of extreme chagrin and discontent upon his features.Sherlock Holmes’ quick eye took in my occupation, and he shook his head with a smile as henoticed my questioning glances. “Beyond theobvious facts that he has at some time done manual labour, that he takes snuff, that he is aFreemason, that he has been in China, and that he hasdone a considerable amount of writing lately, I can deduce nothing else.”Mr. Jabez Wilson started up in his chair, with his forefinger upon the paper, but his eyesupon my companion.“How, in the name of good-fortune, did you know all that, Mr. Holmes?” he asked. “How didyou know, for example, that I did manual labour. It’sas true as gospel, for I began as a ship’s carpenter.”“Your hands, my dear sir. Your right hand is quite a size larger than your left. You haveworked with it, and the muscles are more developed.”“Well, the snuff, then, and the Freemasonry?”“I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you how I read that, especially as, rather againstthe strict rules of your order, you use an arc-andcompassbreastpin.”“Ah, of course, I forgot that. But the writing?”
  18. 18. “What else can be indicated by that right cuff so very shiny for five inches, and the left onewith the smooth patch near the elbow where you restit upon the desk?”“Well, but China?”“The fish that you have tattooed immediately above your right wrist could only have beendone in China. I have made a small study of tattoomarks and have even contributed to the literature of the subject. That trick of staining thefishes’ scales of a delicate pink is quite peculiar to China.When, in addition, I see a Chinese coin hanging from your watch-chain, the matter becomeseven more simple.”Mr. Jabez Wilson laughed heavily. “Well, I never!” said he. “I thought at first that you haddone something clever, but I see that there was nothingin it after all.”“I begin to think, Watson,” said Holmes, “that I make a mistake in explaining. ‘ Omneignotum pro magnifico ,’ you know, and my poor littlereputation, such as it is, will suffer shipwreck if I am so candid. Can you not find theadvertisement, Mr. Wilson?”“Yes, I have got it now,” he answered with his thick red finger planted halfway down thecolumn. “Here it is. This is what began it all. You justread it for yourself, sir.”I took the paper from him and read as follows:“TO THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE: On account of the bequest of the late Ezekiah Hopkins, ofLebanon, Pennsylvania, U. S. A., there is nowanother vacancy open which entitles a member of the League to a salary of £ 4 a week forpurely nominal services. All red-headed men who aresound in body and mind and above the age of twenty-one years, are eligible. Apply in personon Monday, at eleven o’clock, to Duncan Ross, at theoffices of the League, 7 Pope’s Court, Fleet Street.”“What on earth does this mean?” I ejaculated after I had twice read over the extraordinaryannouncement.Holmes chuckled and wriggled in his chair, as was his habit when in high spirits. “It is a littleoff the beaten track, isn’t it?” said he. “And now,Mr. Wilson, off you go at scratch and tell us all about yourself, your household, and theeffect which this advertisement had upon your fortunes. Youwill first make a note, Doctor, of the paper and the date.”“It is The Morning Chronicle of April 27, 1890. Just two months ago.”“Very good. Now, Mr. Wilson?”“Well, it is just as I have been telling you, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” said Jabez Wilson, moppinghis forehead; “I have a small pawnbroker’sbusiness at Coburg Square, near the City. It’s not a very large affair, and of late years it hasnot done more than just give me a living. I used to beable to keep two assistants, but now I only keep one; and I would have a job to pay him butthat he is willing to come for half wages so as to learnthe business.”“What is the name of this obliging youth?” asked Sherlock Holmes.“His name is Vincent Spaulding, and he’s not such a youth, either. It’s hard to say his age. Ishould not wish a smarter assistant, Mr. Holmes;and I know very well that he could better himself and earn twice what I am able to give him.But, after all, if he is satisfied, why should I put ideas inhis head?”“Why, indeed? You seem most fortunate in having an employé who comes under the fullmarket price. It is not a common experience among
  19. 19. employers in this age. I don’t know that your assistant is not as remarkable as youradvertisement.”“Oh, he has his faults, too,” said Mr. Wilson. “Never was such a fellow for photography.Snapping away with a camera when he ought to beimproving his mind, and then diving down into the cellar like a rabbit into its hole to develophis pictures. That is his main fault, but on the whole he’sa good worker. There’s no vice in him.”“He is still with you, I presume?”“Yes, sir. He and a girl of fourteen, who does a bit of simple cooking and keeps the placeclean—that’s all I have in the house, for I am awidower and never had any family. We live very quietly, sir, the three of us; and we keep aroof over our heads and pay our debts, if we do nothingmore.“The first thing that put us out was that advertisement. Spaulding, he came down into theoffice just this day eight weeks, with this very paper inhis hand, and he says:“ ‘I wish to the Lord, Mr. Wilson, that I was a red-headed man.’“ ‘Why that?’ I asks.“ ‘Why,’ says he, ‘here’s another vacancy on the League of the Red-headed Men. It’s worthquite a little fortune to any man who gets it, and Iunderstand that there are more vacancies than there are men, so that the trustees are attheir wits’ end what to do with the money. If my hair wouldonly change colour, here’s a nice little crib all ready for me to step into.’“ ‘Why, what is it, then?’ I asked. You see, Mr. Holmes, I am a very stay-at-home man, and asmy business came to me instead of my having togo to it, I was often weeks on end without putting my foot over the door-mat. In that way Ididn’t know much of what was going on outside, and I wasalways glad of a bit of news.“ ‘Have you never heard of the League of the Red-headed Men?’ he asked with his eyes open.“ ‘Never.’“ ‘Why, I wonder at that, for you are eligible yourself for one of the vacancies.’“ ‘And what are they worth?’ I asked.“ ‘Oh, merely a couple of hundred a year, but the work is slight, and it need not interferevery much with one’s other occupations.’“Well, you can easily think that that made me prick up my ears, for the business has notbeen over good for some years, and an extra couple ofhundred would have been very handy.“ ‘Tell me all about it,’ said I.“ ‘Well,’ said he, showing me the advertisement, ‘you can see for yourself that the Leaguehas a vacancy, and there is the address where youshould apply for particulars. As far as I can make out, the League was founded by anAmerican millionaire, Ezekiah Hopkins, who was very peculiarin his ways. He was himself red-headed, and he had a great sympathy for all red-headedmen; so, when he died, it was found that he had left hisenormous fortune in the hands of trustees, with instructions to apply the interest to theproviding of easy berths to men whose hair is of that colour.From all I hear it is splendid pay and very little to do.’“ ‘But,’ said I, ‘there would be millions of red-headed men who would apply.’“ ‘Not so many as you might think,’ he answered. ‘You see it is really confined to Londoners,and to grown men. This American had startedfrom London when he was young, and he wanted to do the old town a good turn. Then,again, I have heard it is no use your applying if your hair is
  20. 20. light red, or dark red, or anything but real bright, blazing, fiery red. Now, if you cared toapply, Mr. Wilson, you would just walk in; but perhaps it wouldhardly be worth your while to put yourself out of the way for the sake of a few hundredpounds.’“Now, it is a fact, gentlemen, as you may see for yourselves, that my hair is of a very full andrich tint, so that it seemed to me that if there was tobe any competition in the matter I stood as good a chance as any man that I had ever met.Vincent Spaulding seemed to know so much about itthat I thought he might prove useful, so I just ordered him to put up the shutters for the dayand to come right away with me. He was very willing tohave a holiday, so we shut the business up and started off for the address that was given usin the advertisement.“I never hope to see such a sight as that again, Mr. Holmes. From north, south, east, andwest every man who had a shade of red in his hairhad tramped into the city to answer the advertisement. Fleet Street was choked with red-headed folk, and Pope’s Court looked like a coster’sorange barrow. I should not have thought there were so many in the whole country as werebrought together by that single advertisement. Everyshade of colour they were—straw, lemon, orange, brick, Irish-setter, liver, clay; but, asSpaulding said, there were not many who had the real vividflame-coloured tint. When I saw how many were waiting, I would have given it up in despair;but Spaulding would not hear of it. How he did it I couldnot imagine, but he pushed and pulled and butted until he got me through the crowd, andright up to the steps which led to the office. There was adouble stream upon the stair, some going up in hope, and some coming back dejected; butwe wedged in as well as we could and soon foundourselves in the office.”“Your experience has been a most entertaining one,” remarked Holmes as his client pausedand refreshed his memory with a huge pinch ofsnuff. “Pray continue your very interesting statement.”“There was nothing in the office but a couple of wooden chairs and a deal table, behindwhich sat a small man with a head that was evenredder than mine. He said a few words to each candidate as he came up, and then he alwaysmanaged to find some fault in them which woulddisqualify them. Getting a vacancy did not seem to be such a very easy matter, after all.However, when our turn came the little man was much morefavourable to me than to any of the others, and he closed the door as we entered, so that hemight have a private word with us.“ ‘This is Mr. Jabez Wilson,’ said my assistant, ‘and he is willing to fill a vacancy in theLeague.’“ ‘And he is admirably suited for it,’ the other answered. ‘He has every requirement. I cannotrecall when I have seen anything so fine.’ He tooka step backward, cocked his head on one side, and gazed at my hair until I felt quite bashful.Then suddenly he plunged forward, wrung my hand,and congratulated me warmly on my success.“ ‘It would be injustice to hesitate,’ said he. ‘You will, however, I am sure, excuse me fortaking an obvious precaution.’ With that he seized myhair in both his hands, and tugged until I yelled with the pain. ‘There is water in your eyes,’said he as he released me. ‘I perceive that all is as itshould be. But we have to be careful, for we have twice been deceived by wigs and once bypaint. I could tell you tales of cobbler’s wax which woulddisgust you with human nature.’ He stepped over to the window and shouted through it at
  21. 21. the top of his voice that the vacancy was filled. A groan ofdisappointment came up from below, and the folk all trooped away in different directionsuntil there was not a red-head to be seen except my ownand that of the manager.“ ‘My name,’ said he, ‘is Mr. Duncan Ross, and I am myself one of the pensioners upon thefund left by our noble benefactor. Are you a marriedman, Mr. Wilson? Have you a family?’“I answered that I had not.“His face fell immediately.“ ‘Dear me!’ he said gravely, ‘that is very serious indeed! I am sorry to hear you say that. Thefund was, of course, for the propagation andspread of the red-heads as well as for their maintenance. It is exceedingly unfortunate thatyou should be a bachelor.’“My face lengthened at this, Mr. Holmes, for I thought that I was not to have the vacancyafter all; but after thinking it over for a few minutes hesaid that it would be all right.“ ‘In the case of another,’ said he, ‘the objection might be fatal, but we must stretch a pointin favour of a man with such a head of hair as yours.When shall you be able to enter upon your new duties?’“ ‘Well, it is a little awkward, for I have a business already,’ said I.“ ‘Oh, never mind about that, Mr. Wilson!’ said Vincent Spaulding. ‘I should be able to lookafter that for you.’“ ‘What would be the hours?’ I asked.“ ‘Ten to two.’“Now a pawnbroker’s business is mostly done of an evening, Mr. Holmes, especiallyThursday and Friday evening, which is just before payday;so it would suit me very well to earn a little in the mornings. Besides, I knew that myassistant was a good man, and that he would see toanything that turned up.“ ‘That would suit me very well,’ said I. ‘And the pay?’“ ‘Is £ 4 a week.’“ ‘And the work?’“ ‘Is purely nominal.’“ ‘What do you call purely nominal?’“ ‘Well, you have to be in the office, or at least in the building, the whole time. If you leave,you forfeit your whole position forever. The will is veryclear upon that point. You don’t comply with the conditions if you budge from the officeduring that time.’“ ‘It’s only four hours a day, and I should not think of leaving,’ said I.“ ‘No excuse will avail,’ said Mr. Duncan Ross; ‘neither sickness nor business nor anythingelse. There you must stay, or you lose your billet.’“ ‘And the work?’“ ‘Is to copy out the Encyclopaedia Britannica . There is the first volume of it in that press.You must find your own ink, pens, and blotting-paper,but we provide this table and chair. Will you be ready to-morrow?’“ ‘Certainly,’ I answered.“ ‘Then, good-bye, Mr. Jabez Wilson, and let me congratulate you once more on theimportant position which you have been fortunate enoughto gain.’ He bowed me out of the room and I went home with my assistant, hardly knowingwhat to say or do, I was so pleased at my own goodfortune.“Well, I thought over the matter all day, and by evening I was in low spirits again; for I had
  22. 22. quite persuaded myself that the whole affair must besome great hoax or fraud, though what its object might be I could not imagine. It seemedaltogether past belief that anyone could make such a will,or that they would pay such a sum for doing anything so simple as copying out theEncyclopaedia Britannica . Vincent Spaulding did what he couldto cheer me up, but by bedtime I had reasoned myself out of the whole thing. However, inthe morning I determined to have a look at it anyhow, so Ibought a penny bottle of ink, and with a quill-pen, and seven sheets of foolscap paper, Istarted off for Pope’s Court.“Well, to my surprise and delight, everything was as right as possible. The table was set outready for me, and Mr. Duncan Ross was there tosee that I got fairly to work. He started me off upon the letter A, and then he left me; but hewould drop in from time to time to see that all was rightwith me. At two o’clock he bade me good-day, complimented me upon the amount that I hadwritten, and locked the door of the office after me.“This went on day after day, Mr. Holmes, and on Saturday the manager came in and plankeddown four golden sovereigns for my week’s work.It was the same next week, and the same the week after. Every morning I was there at ten,and every afternoon I left at two. By degrees Mr. DuncanRoss took to coming in only once of a morning, and then, after a time, he did not come in atall. Still, of course, I never dared to leave the room foran instant, for I was not sure when he might come, and the billet was such a good one, andsuited me so well, that I would not risk the loss of it.“Eight weeks passed away like this, and I had written about Abbots and Archery and Armourand Architecture and Attica, and hoped withdiligence that I might get on to the B’s before very long. It cost me something in foolscap,and I had pretty nearly filled a shelf with my writings. Andthen suddenly the whole business came to an end.”“To an end?”“Yes, sir. And no later than this morning. I went to my work as usual at ten o’clock, but thedoor was shut and locked, with a little square ofcardboard hammered on to the middle of the panel with a tack. Here it is, and you can readfor yourself.”He held up a piece of white cardboard about the size of a sheet of note-paper. It read in thisfashion:THE RED-HEADED LEAGUEISDISSOLVED.October 9, 1890.Sherlock Holmes and I surveyed this curt announcement and the rueful face behind it, untilthe comical side of the affair so completelyovertopped every other consideration that we both burst out into a roar of laughter.“I cannot see that there is anything very funny,” cried our client, flushing up to the roots ofhis flaming head. “If you can do nothing better thanlaugh at me, I can go elsewhere.”“No, no,” cried Holmes, shoving him back into the chair from which he had half risen. “Ireally wouldn’t miss your case for the world. It is mostrefreshingly unusual. But there is, if you will excuse my saying so, something just a littlefunny about it. Pray what steps did you take when you foundthe card upon the door?”“I was staggered, sir. I did not know what to do. Then I called at the offices round, but noneof them seemed to know anything about it. Finally, I
  23. 23. went to the landlord, who is an accountant living on the ground floor, and I asked him if hecould tell me what had become of the Red-headedLeague. He said that he had never heard of any such body. Then I asked him who Mr.Duncan Ross was. He answered that the name was new tohim.“ ‘Well,’ said I, ‘the gentleman at No. 4.’“ ‘What, the red-headed man?’“ ‘Yes.’“ ‘Oh,’ said he, ‘his name was William Morris. He was a solicitor and was using my room as atemporary convenience until his new premiseswere ready. He moved out yesterday.’“ ‘Where could I find him?’“ ‘Oh, at his new offices. He did tell me the address. Yes, 17 King Edward Street, near St.Paul’s.’“I started off, Mr. Holmes, but when I got to that address it was a manufactory of artificialknee-caps, and no one in it had ever heard of eitherMr. William Morris or Mr. Duncan Ross.”“And what did you do then?” asked Holmes.“I went home to Saxe-Coburg Square, and I took the advice of my assistant. But he could nothelp me in any way. He could only say that if Iwaited I should hear by post. But that was not quite good enough, Mr. Holmes. I did not wishto lose such a place without a struggle, so, as I hadheard that you were good enough to give advice to poor folk who were in need of it, I cameright away to you.”“And you did very wisely,” said Holmes. “Your case is an exceedingly remarkable one, and Ishall be happy to look into it. From what you havetold me I think that it is possible that graver issues hang from it than might at first sightappear.”“Grave enough!” said Mr. Jabez Wilson. “Why, I have lost four pound a week.”“As far as you are personally concerned,” remarked Holmes, “I do not see that you have anygrievance against this extraordinary league. Onthe contrary, you are, as I understand, richer by some £ 30, to say nothing of the minuteknowledge which you have gained on every subject whichcomes under the letter A. You have lost nothing by them.”“No, sir. But I want to find out about them, and who they are, and what their object was inplaying this prank—if it was a prank—upon me. It wasa pretty expensive joke for them, for it cost them two and thirty pounds.”“We shall endeavour to clear up these points for you. And, first, one or two questions, Mr.Wilson. This assistant of yours who first called yourattention to the advertisement—how long had he been with you?”“About a month then.”“How did he come?”“In answer to an advertisement.”“Was he the only applicant?”“No, I had a dozen.”“Why did you pick him?”“Because he was handy and would come cheap.”“At half wages, in fact.”“Yes.”“What is he like, this Vincent Spaulding?”“Small, stout-built, very quick in his ways, no hair on his face, though he’s not short of thirty.Has a white splash of acid upon his forehead.”
  24. 24. Holmes sat up in his chair in considerable excitement. “I thought as much,” said he. “Haveyou ever observed that his ears are pierced forearrings?”“Yes, sir. He told me that a gipsy had done it for him when he was a lad.”“Hum!” said Holmes, sinking back in deep thought. “He is still with you?”“Oh, yes, sir; I have only just left him.”“And has your business been attended to in your absence?”“Nothing to complain of, sir. There’s never very much to do of a morning.”“That will do, Mr. Wilson. I shall be happy to give you an opinion upon the subject in thecourse of a day or two. To-day is Saturday, and I hopethat by Monday we may come to a conclusion.”“Well, Watson,” said Holmes when our visitor had left us, “what do you make of it all?”“I make nothing of it,” I answered frankly. “It is a most mysterious business.”“As a rule,” said Holmes, “the more bizarre a thing is the less mysterious it proves to be. It isyour commonplace, featureless crimes which arereally puzzling, just as a commonplace face is the most difficult to identify. But I must beprompt over this matter.”“What are you going to do, then?” I asked.“To smoke,” he answered. “It is quite a three pipe problem, and I beg that you won’t speak tome for fifty minutes.” He curled himself up in hischair, with his thin knees drawn up to his hawk-like nose, and there he sat with his eyesclosed and his black clay pipe thrusting out like the bill ofsome strange bird. I had come to the conclusion that he had dropped asleep, and indeedwas nodding myself, when he suddenly sprang out of hischair with the gesture of a man who has made up his mind and put his pipe down upon themantelpiece.“Sarasate plays at the St. James’s Hall this afternoon,” he remarked. “What do you think,Watson? Could your patients spare you for a fewhours?”“I have nothing to do to-day. My practice is never very absorbing.”“Then put on your hat and come. I am going through the City first, and we can have somelunch on the way. I observe that there is a good dealof German music on the programme, which is rather more to my taste than Italian or French.It is introspective, and I want to introspect. Comealong!”We travelled by the Underground as far as Aldersgate; and a short walk took us to Saxe-Coburg Square, the scene of the singular story whichwe had listened to in the morning. It was a poky, little, shabby-genteel place, where fourlines of dingy two-storied brick houses looked out into asmall railed-in enclosure, where a lawn of weedy grass and a few clumps of faded laurelbushes made a hard fight against a smoke-laden anduncongenial atmosphere. Three gilt balls and a brown board with “JABEZ WILSON” in whiteletters, upon a corner house, announced the placewhere our red-headed client carried on his business. Sherlock Holmes stopped in front of itwith his head on one side and looked it all over, with hiseyes shining brightly between puckered lids. Then he walked slowly up the street, and thendown again to the corner, still looking keenly at thehouses. Finally he returned to the pawnbroker’s, and, having thumped vigorously upon thepavement with his stick two or three times, he went up tothe door and knocked. It was instantly opened by a bright-looking, clean-shaven youngfellow, who asked him to step in.“Thank you,” said Holmes, “I only wished to ask you how you would go from here to the
  25. 25. Strand.”“Third right, fourth left,” answered the assistant promptly, closing the door.“Smart fellow, that,” observed Holmes as we walked away. “He is, in my judgment, the fourthsmartest man in London, and for daring I am notsure that he has not a claim to be third. I have known something of him before.”“Evidently,” said I, “Mr. Wilson’s assistant counts for a good deal in this mystery of the Red-headed League. I am sure that you inquired yourway merely in order that you might see him.”“Not him.”“What then?”“The knees of his trousers.”“And what did you see?”“What I expected to see.”“Why did you beat the pavement?”“My dear doctor, this is a time for observation, not for talk. We are spies in an enemy’scountry. We know something of Saxe-Coburg Square.Let us now explore the parts which lie behind it.”The road in which we found ourselves as we turned round the corner from the retired Saxe-Coburg Square presented as great a contrast to itas the front of a picture does to the back. It was one of the main arteries which conveyed thetraffic of the City to the north and west. The roadwaywas blocked with the immense stream of commerce flowing in a double tide inward andoutward, while the footpaths were black with the hurryingswarm of pedestrians. It was difficult to realise as we looked at the line of fine shops andstately business premises that they really abutted on theother side upon the faded and stagnant square which we had just quitted.“Let me see,” said Holmes, standing at the corner and glancing along the line, “I should likejust to remember the order of the houses here. It isa hobby of mine to have an exact knowledge of London. There is Mortimer’s, thetobacconist, the little newspaper shop, the Coburg branch of theCity and Suburban Bank, the Vegetarian Restaurant, and McFarlane’s carriage-building depot.That carries us right on to the other block. And now,Doctor, we’ve done our work, so it’s time we had some play. A sandwich and a cup of coffee,and then off to violin-land, where all is sweetness anddelicacy and harmony, and there are no red-headed clients to vex us with their conundrums.”My friend was an enthusiastic musician, being himself not only a very capable performer buta composer of no ordinary merit. All the afternoonhe sat in the stalls wrapped in the most perfect happiness, gently waving his long, thinfingers in time to the music, while his gently smiling face andhis languid, dreamy eyes were as unlike those of Holmes the sleuth-hound, Holmes therelentless, keen-witted, ready-handed criminal agent, as itwas possible to conceive. In his singular character the dual nature alternately asserted itself,and his extreme exactness and astutenessrepresented, as I have often thought, the reaction against the poetic and contemplativemood which occasionally predominated in him. The swing ofhis nature took him from extreme languor to devouring energy; and, as I knew well, he wasnever so truly formidable as when, for days on end, hehad been lounging in his armchair amid his improvisations and his black-letter editions.Then it was that the lust of the chase would suddenly comeupon him, and that his brilliant reasoning power would rise to the level of intuition, untilthose who were unacquainted with his methods would lookaskance at him as on a man whose knowledge was not that of other mortals. When I saw him
  26. 26. that afternoon so enwrapped in the music at St.James’s Hall I felt that an evil time might be coming upon those whom he had set himself tohunt down.“You want to go home, no doubt, Doctor,” he remarked as we emerged.“Yes, it would be as well.”“And I have some business to do which will take some hours. This business at CoburgSquare is serious.”“Why serious?”“A considerable crime is in contemplation. I have every reason to believe that we shall be intime to stop it. But to-day being Saturday rathercomplicates matters. I shall want your help to-night.”“At what time?”“Ten will be early enough.”“I shall be at Baker Street at ten.”“Very well. And, I say, Doctor, there may be some little danger, so kindly put your armyrevolver in your pocket.” He waved his hand, turned onhis heel, and disappeared in an instant among the crowd.I trust that I am not more dense than my neighbours, but I was always oppressed with asense of my own stupidity in my dealings with SherlockHolmes. Here I had heard what he had heard, I had seen what he had seen, and yet from hiswords it was evident that he saw clearly not only whathad happened but what was about to happen, while to me the whole business was stillconfused and grotesque. As I drove home to my house inKensington I thought over it all, from the extraordinary story of the red-headed copier of theEncyclopaedia down to the visit to Saxe-CoburgSquare, and the ominous words with which he had parted from me. What was this nocturnalexpedition, and why should I go armed? Where werewe going, and what were we to do? I had the hint from Holmes that this smooth-facedpawnbroker’s assistant was a formidable man—a man whomight play a deep game. I tried to puzzle it out, but gave it up in despair and set the matteraside until night should bring an explanation.It was a quarter-past nine when I started from home and made my way across the Park, andso through Oxford Street to Baker Street. Twohansoms were standing at the door, and as I entered the passage I heard the sound of voicesfrom above. On entering his room, I found Holmes inanimated conversation with two men, one of whom I recognised as Peter Jones, the officialpolice agent, while the other was a long, thin, sad-facedman, with a very shiny hat and oppressively respectable frock-coat.“Ha! Our party is complete,” said Holmes, buttoning up his pea-jacket and taking his heavyhunting crop from the rack. “Watson, I think youknow Mr. Jones, of Scotland Yard? Let me introduce you to Mr. Merryweather, who is to beour companion in to-night’s adventure.”“We’re hunting in couples again, Doctor, you see,” said Jones in his consequential way. “Ourfriend here is a wonderful man for starting achase. All he wants is an old dog to help him to do the running down.”“I hope a wild goose may not prove to be the end of our chase,” observed Mr. Merryweathergloomily.“You may place considerable confidence in Mr. Holmes, sir,” said the police agent loftily. “Hehas his own little methods, which are, if he won’tmind my saying so, just a little too theoretical and fantastic, but he has the makings of adetective in him. It is not too much to say that once or twice,as in that business of the Sholto murder and the Agra treasure, he has been more nearly
  27. 27. correct than the official force.”“Oh, if you say so, Mr. Jones, it is all right,” said the stranger with deference. “Still, I confessthat I miss my rubber. It is the first Saturday night forseven-and-twenty years that I have not had my rubber.”“I think you will find,” said Sherlock Holmes, “that you will play for a higher stake to-nightthan you have ever done yet, and that the play will bemore exciting. For you, Mr. Merryweather, the stake will be some £ 30,000; and for you,Jones, it will be the man upon whom you wish to lay yourhands.”“John Clay, the murderer, thief, smasher, and forger. He’s a young man, Mr. Merryweather,but he is at the head of his profession, and I wouldrather have my bracelets on him than on any criminal in London. He’s a remarkable man, isyoung John Clay. His grandfather was a royal duke, andhe himself has been to Eton and Oxford. His brain is as cunning as his fingers, and thoughwe meet signs of him at every turn, we never know whereto find the man himself. He’ll crack a crib in Scotland one week, and be raising money tobuild an orphanage in Cornwall the next. I’ve been on histrack for years and have never set eyes on him yet.”“I hope that I may have the pleasure of introducing you to-night. I’ve had one or two littleturns also with Mr. John Clay, and I agree with you thathe is at the head of his profession. It is past ten, however, and quite time that we started. Ifyou two will take the first hansom, Watson and I will followin the second.”Sherlock Holmes was not very communicative during the long drive and lay back in the cabhumming the tunes which he had heard in theafternoon. We rattled through an endless labyrinth of gas-lit streets until we emerged intoFarrington Street.“We are close there now,” my friend remarked. “This fellow Merryweather is a bank director,and personally interested in the matter. I thought itas well to have Jones with us also. He is not a bad fellow, though an absolute imbecile in hisprofession. He has one positive virtue. He is as braveas a bulldog and as tenacious as a lobster if he gets his claws upon anyone. Here we are, andthey are waiting for us.”We had reached the same crowded thoroughfare in which we had found ourselves in themorning. Our cabs were dismissed, and, following theguidance of Mr. Merryweather, we passed down a narrow passage and through a side door,which he opened for us. Within there was a smallcorridor, which ended in a very massive iron gate. This also was opened, and led down aflight of winding stone steps, which terminated at anotherformidable gate. Mr. Merryweather stopped to light a lantern, and then conducted us down adark, earth-smelling passage, and so, after opening athird door, into a huge vault or cellar, which was piled all round with crates and massiveboxes.“You are not very vulnerable from above,” Holmes remarked as he held up the lantern andgazed about him.“Nor from below,” said Mr. Merryweather, striking his stick upon the flags which lined thefloor. “Why, dear me, it sounds quite hollow!” heremarked, looking up in surprise.“I must really ask you to be a little more quiet!” said Holmes severely. “You have alreadyimperilled the whole success of our expedition. Might Ibeg that you would have the goodness to sit down upon one of those boxes, and not tointerfere?”
  28. 28. The solemn Mr. Merryweather perched himself upon a crate, with a very injured expressionupon his face, while Holmes fell upon his kneesupon the floor and, with the lantern and a magnifying lens, began to examine minutely thecracks between the stones. A few seconds sufficed tosatisfy him, for he sprang to his feet again and put his glass in his pocket.“We have at least an hour before us,” he remarked, “for they can hardly take any steps untilthe good pawnbroker is safely in bed. Then they willnot lose a minute, for the sooner they do their work the longer time they will have for theirescape. We are at present, Doctor—as no doubt you havedivined—in the cellar of the City branch of one of the principal London banks. Mr.Merryweather is the chairman of directors, and he will explain toyou that there are reasons why the more daring criminals of London should take aconsiderable interest in this cellar at present.”“It is our French gold,” whispered the director. “We have had several warnings that anattempt might be made upon it.”“Your French gold?”“Yes. We had occasion some months ago to strengthen our resources and borrowed for thatpurpose 30,000 napoleons from the Bank ofFrance. It has become known that we have never had occasion to unpack the money, andthat it is still lying in our cellar. The crate upon which I sitcontains 2,000 napoleons packed between layers of lead foil. Our reserve of bullion is muchlarger at present than is usually kept in a single branchoffice, and the directors have had misgivings upon the subject.”“Which were very well justified,” observed Holmes. “And now it is time that we arranged ourlittle plans. I expect that within an hour matters willcome to a head. In the meantime Mr. Merryweather, we must put the screen over that darklantern.”“And sit in the dark?”“I am afraid so. I had brought a pack of cards in my pocket, and I thought that, as we were apar tie car rée, you might have your rubber after all.But I see that the enemy’s preparations have gone so far that we cannot risk the presence ofa light. And, first of all, we must choose our positions.These are daring men, and though we shall take them at a disadvantage, they may do ussome harm unless we are careful. I shall stand behind thiscrate, and do you conceal yourselves behind those. Then, when I flash a light upon them,close in swiftly. If they fire, Watson, have no compunctionabout shooting them down.”I placed my revolver, cocked, upon the top of the wooden case behind which I crouched.Holmes shot the slide across the front of his lanternand left us in pitch darkness—such an absolute darkness as I have never before experienced.The smell of hot metal remained to assure us that thelight was still there, ready to flash out at a moment’s notice. To me, with my nerves workedup to a pitch of expectancy, there was somethingdepressing and subduing in the sudden gloom, and in the cold dank air of the vault.“They have but one retreat,” whispered Holmes. “That is back through the house into Saxe-Coburg Square. I hope that you have done what Iasked you, Jones?”“I have an inspector and two officers waiting at the front door.”“Then we have stopped all the holes. And now we must be silent and wait.”What a time it seemed! From comparing notes afterwards it was but an hour and a quarter,yet it appeared to me that the night must havealmost gone, and the dawn be breaking above us. My limbs were weary and stiff, for I feared
  29. 29. to change my position; yet my nerves were worked upto the highest pitch of tension, and my hearing was so acute that I could not only hear thegentle breathing of my companions, but I could distinguishthe deeper, heavier in-breath of the bulky Jones from the thin, sighing note of the bankdirector. From my position I could look over the case in thedirection of the floor. Suddenly my eyes caught the glint of a light.At first it was but a lurid spark upon the stone pavement. Then it lengthened out until itbecame a yellow line, and then, without any warning orsound, a gash seemed to open and a hand appeared, a white, almost womanly hand, whichfelt about in the centre of the little area of light. For aminute or more the hand, with its writhing fingers, protruded out of the floor. Then it waswithdrawn as suddenly as it appeared, and all was darkagain save the single lurid spark which marked a chink between the stones.Its disappearance, however, was but momentary. With a rending, tearing sound, one of thebroad, white stones turned over upon its side andleft a square, gaping hole, through which streamed the light of a lantern. Over the edgethere peeped a clean-cut, boyish face, which looked keenlyabout it, and then, with a hand on either side of the aperture, drew itself shoulder-high andwaist-high, until one knee rested upon the edge. Inanother instant he stood at the side of the hole and was hauling after him a companion, litheand small like himself, with a pale face and a shock ofvery red hair.“It’s all clear,” he whispered. “Have you the chisel and the bags? Great Scott! Jump, Archie,jump, and I’ll swing for it!”Sherlock Holmes had sprung out and seized the intruder by the collar. The other dived downthe hole, and I heard the sound of rending cloth asJones clutched at his skirts. The light flashed upon the barrel of a revolver, but Holmes’hunting crop came down on the man’s wrist, and the pistolclinked upon the stone floor.“It’s no use, John Clay,” said Holmes blandly. “You have no chance at all.”“So I see,” the other answered with the utmost coolness. “I fancy that my pal is all right,though I see you have got his coat-tails.”“There are three men waiting for him at the door,” said Holmes.“Oh, indeed! You seem to have done the thing very completely. I must compliment you.”“And I you,” Holmes answered. “Your red-headed idea was very new and effective.”“You’ll see your pal again presently,” said Jones. “He’s quicker at climbing down holes than Iam. Just hold out while I fix the derbies.”“I beg that you will not touch me with your filthy hands,” remarked our prisoner as thehandcuffs clattered upon his wrists. “You may not be awarethat I have royal blood in my veins. Have the goodness, also, when you address me always tosay ‘sir’ and ‘please.’ ”“All right,” said Jones with a stare and a snigger. “Well, would you please, sir, march upstairs,where we can get a cab to carry your Highnessto the police-station?”“That is better,” said John Clay serenely. He made a sweeping bow to the three of us andwalked quietly off in the custody of the detective.“Really, Mr. Holmes,” said Mr. Merryweather as we followed them from the cellar, “I do notknow how the bank can thank you or repay you.There is no doubt that you have detected and defeated in the most complete manner one ofthe most determined attempts at bank robbery thathave ever come within my experience.”“I have had one or two little scores of my own to settle with Mr. John Clay,” said Holmes. “I
  30. 30. have been at some small expense over this matter,which I shall expect the bank to refund, but beyond that I am amply repaid by having had anexperience which is in many ways unique, and byhearing the very remarkable narrative of the Red-headed League.”“You see, Watson,” he explained in the early hours of the morning as we sat over a glass ofwhisky and soda in Baker Street, “it was perfectlyobvious from the first that the only possible object of this rather fantastic business of theadvertisement of the League, and the copying of theEncyclopaedia , must be to get this not over-bright pawnbroker out of the way for a numberof hours every day. It was a curious way of managing it,but, really, it would be difficult to suggest a better. The method was no doubt suggested toClay’s ingenious mind by the colour of his accomplice’shair. The £ 4 a week was a lure which must draw him, and what was it to them, who wereplaying for thousands? They put in the advertisement, onerogue has the temporary office, the other rogue incites the man to apply for it, and togetherthey manage to secure his absence every morning in theweek. From the time that I heard of the assistant having come for half wages, it was obviousto me that he had some strong motive for securing thesituation.”“But how could you guess what the motive was?”“Had there been women in the house, I should have suspected a mere vulgar intrigue. That,however, was out of the question. The man’sbusiness was a small one, and there was nothing in his house which could account for suchelaborate preparations, and such an expenditure asthey were at. It must, then, be something out of the house. What could it be? I thought of theassistant’s fondness for photography, and his trick ofvanishing into the cellar. The cellar! There was the end of this tangled clue. Then I madeinquiries as to this mysterious assistant and found that I hadto deal with one of the coolest and most daring criminals in London. He was doingsomething in the cellar—something which took many hours aday for months on end. What could it be, once more? I could think of nothing save that hewas running a tunnel to some other building.“So far I had got when we went to visit the scene of action. I surprised you by beating uponthe pavement with my stick. I was ascertainingwhether the cellar stretched out in front or behind. It was not in front. Then I rang the bell,and, as I hoped, the assistant answered it. We have hadsome skirmishes, but we had never set eyes upon each other before. I hardly looked at hisface. His knees were what I wished to see. You mustyourself have remarked how worn, wrinkled, and stained they were. They spoke of thosehours of burrowing. The only remaining point was what theywere burrowing for. I walked round the corner, saw the City and Suburban Bank abutted onour friend’s premises, and felt that I had solved myproblem. When you drove home after the concert I called upon Scotland Yard and upon thechairman of the bank directors, with the result that youhave seen.”“And how could you tell that they would make their attempt to-night?” I asked.“Well, when they closed their League offices that was a sign that they cared no longer aboutMr. Jabez Wilson’s presence—in other words, thatthey had completed their tunnel. But it was essential that they should use it soon, as it mightbe discovered, or the bullion might be removed.Saturday would suit them better than any other day, as it would give them two days for theirescape. For all these reasons I expected them to come